Root Canal Treatment

What is a root canal?

A root canal is one of the most common dental procedures performed, with well over 14 million completed in in the US every year.  Root Canal treatment involves removing the nerve from the tooth.  The nerve is also referred to as the pulp of the tooth.  There are a number of reasons that it would be necessary to do root canal treatment. 

  • Sometimes decay (a cavity) can spread deep inside the tooth and get close to the nerve, or actually penetrate the pulp chamber and infect the nerve. 
  • If a tooth cracks and the nerve is exposed to the outside environment (air and saliva).
  • If there is very little natural tooth structure left above the gumline, it is often necessary to do root canal treatment in order to build the tooth back up so it can be restored with a crown.
  • And sometimes a tooth can just hurt!  Often times a tooth becomes sensitive to biting or temperatures or even touch!  This might be from tooth grinding habits, or an existing filling that is relatively close to the nerve and the tooth has become sensitive over time.  Removal of the nerve with root canal treatment will eliminate the pain in most cases.

How is a Root Canal done?

Generally, a small opening is made in the flat chewing surface of a back tooth, or the inside (tongue side) of a front tooth so that the dentist can get into the pulp chamber.  This is done after the patient has been “numbed” with local anesthetic.  Then the doctor will use small files to remove the pulp tissue (nerve) and shape the inside of the root canal or canals, depending on the number of canals.  front teeth generally have one root and one root canal.  premolars (bicuspids) usually have either one or two roots while molars usually have 3 or 4 roots.  But these can vary widely from tooth to tooth.

After the root canal(s) have been thoroughly cleaned out and disinfected, they will be filled with a material called gutta percha.  There are other types of filling materials for root canal procedures, but gutta percha is used by most dentists in the US most of the time.  And then the tooth is ready to be restored. 

Almost always, a full crown is recommended to restore a tooth that’s had root canal treatment.  With no more blood supply inside the tooth, it will get brittle over time and is subject to fracture.  A full crown is the best way to avoid this.

When your root canal is completed, your dentist may recommend antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory drugs, or pain medications depending on the particular situation.

Root canal treatment is successful in approximately 95% or more of the cases treated in the US.  But sometimes complicating factors such as the shape of the nerve canals or other factors can make the treatment ineffective. But this is unusual.

How much will root canal treatment cost?

The cost associated with this procedure can vary depending on factors such as the severity of damage to the affected tooth and which tooth is affected. In general, endodontic treatment is much less expensive than tooth removal and replacement with an artificial tooth.